Monthly Archives: October 2021


Featured Founder: David Capece of CROOW

Welcome to our Featured Founder series, where you’ll meet startup founders from Tampa-St. Petersburg who are building and scaling their ventures to solve some of the world’s greatest challenges. We interviewed David Capece of CROOW, which is a SaaS work collaboration platform that accelerates business by unifying teams and automating visibility.

What were you doing previously and what inspired you to launch your company?

David Capece founded the software company CROOW with learnings and inspiration from his most recent role as CEO of the INC 5000 digital agency Sparxoo.  During the agency growth journey, David observed that the project management software market had many options, but none were built for the challenges of agencies and creative teams.  Earlier in his career, David led ESPN’s transformation of its Fantasy Sports products, ushering in the “free teams” era and serving as a catalyst to grow from 200,000 users to 1 million and then 2 million+.  David recognized that the agency, digital, and creative marketplaces are at that inflection point, just as fantasy sports was in the early 2000s.

What pain point is your company solving? What gets you excited to go to work every day?

There are many project management and collaboration options in the market.  And yet, significant challenges remain in team collaboration.  A recent Salesforce study reveals that 86% of employees and executives cite lack of collaboration and ineffective communication for workplace failure.  Likewise, a recent Mailchimp study found that employees are wasting 21.8 hours per week on low-value tasks.  CROOW is the next generation of project management that lives at the intersection of collaboration and business intelligence, all with smart automation built-in.

Name the biggest challenge you faced in the process of launching the company. How did you overcome it?

As with most startups, going from idea to prototype to market launch is a big lift.  It inevitably takes more time (and investment) than expected.  With CROOW, the challenge was in getting market fit.  We prioritized a continuous loop of feedback from users and influencers and made adjustments and pivots along the way.  In facing adoption hurdles, we tinkered with demand gen sources, pricing, the sign-up process, and premium features to take CROOW to the next level.

Where do you see your company headed next?

We have a big mission to unify business leaders, project managers, and creatives into high-performing teams for easy, fun, and profitable work.  By our 2nd birthday, CROOW was named one of the 50 most innovative companies in Tampa Bay and won a Titan Gold as Startup IT Company of the Year.  Now in our 3rd year, we continue to lay the foundation for our goal to become a Unicorn.  We are elevating CROOW’s best-in-breed platform to bring advanced collaboration, business intelligence, and automation designed for the creative class.  From our CROOW Project Management app, to our recently released CROOW Studio solution, to our soon-to-be-launched CROOW Marketplace, we are streamlining creative work for an optimal experience by all team members in the creative production workflow.  We have our sights set on sailing into the national spotlight.

Give us a tactical piece of advice that you'd share with another founder just starting out.

Let’s start with a tactical piece of advice:  get to market as quickly as possible.  We achieved prototype at 3 months, alpha at 6 months, and beta at 10 months.  From there we rebuilt significantly for market launch in year 2.  Feedback is priceless, so get it early and often.

Beyond the tactical advice, take moments to step back and think.  As you are conceiving and building, always imagine the destination and key moments along the journey.  Are you creating something evolutionary or revolutionary?  How much of your own time and money are you willing to commit?  Will you fold if you don’t get it exactly right initially?  Will you be standing at the finish line alone or with partners?  In a sense, by asking yourself these questions, you will be testing your own appetite for risk and conviction for your opportunity.  In the case of CROOW, I was buoyed by my strong convictions of the market opportunity, which helped me overcome challenging moments that might have had others fold.

Why Tampa Bay?

In 2009, during the Great Recession, my now husband and I were in New York and thinking about where we wanted to spend the next chapter of our lives.  We decided to make a top 10 list of where to move.  Our list was 9 deep and we decided to add a 10th to the list, with the criteria being a city in Florida that we had never been to.  Tampa and Jacksonville fit the bill, so we flipped a coin.  On the coin flip, Tampa entered our top 10 as #10.

Over the next few months, we visited several cities, including Tampa.  We narrowed down our list to 5, and Tampa snuck in at #5.  Then, we took a deeper look at the top 5 and narrowed in on our top 3:  1) San Diego, 2) Charlotte, and 3) Tampa.  At this point, we were looking for a city on the upswing that would be a perfect “Live. Work. Play.” trifecta.  Ultimately, we concluded that Tampa Bay is the perfect blend of San Diego and Charlotte, and chose to move to Tampa Bay in 2010. More than a decade later, we feel so fortunate to have chosen Tampa Bay.  The region has surged and even emerged as a next-generation hub for technology.  I couldn’t think of a better place for CROOW to accelerate growth.


2021 Glaring Gap Report


We launched the Glaring Gap Report in 2020 to understand the discrepancy between women and men in their participation in founding tech startups, raising investment to scale tech startups, and investing in tech startups across Florida. In this latest report, COVID-19 looms large in our assessment of the state of entrepreneurship for women in Florida. While Florida logged a year-over-year decrease in the number of women founders launching startups in Florida, the same time period saw a significant increase in the number of women participating in startup investing across the state.

About the Data

The data in this report primarily reflects 2020 with one exception. The data from Embarc Collective’s State of Entrepreneurship in Florida reflects the 2021 milestones, challenges, and needs of women startup founders across the state.

What has changed since our 2020 Report?

  • 18% of new startups in Florida have a woman founder, down from 23% in 2019.
  • Women founders have identified access to talent as their key need when building their businesses followed by access to capital
  • The proportion of venture capital funding going to women-founded companies is up nominally year-over-year from 7% to 8%. However, this proportion still trails 3 points behind the national average.
  • There has been a marked growth in the number of women involved with venture investing in Florida – there was a 36% increase in the number of women at Florida-based investment firms in 2021. However, Florida still lags the national average with the percentage of women partners at venture funds (21% Florida v. 36% National).

As the data shows, the Glaring Gap between women and men in startup venture creation and investing continues to be apparent. Accordingly, Embarc Collective is providing training to women interested in startup investing via our second annual Embarc Collective Glaring Gap Summit, powered by JPMorgan Chase. This 3-day virtual summit in November 2021 provides intensive training to 50 Florida women on how to conduct their own due diligence process to evaluate startup investment opportunities.

To participate in the 2021 Glaring Gap Summit, please complete this form by October 27, 2021.


The State of Florida’s Women-Founded Startups

About the Data

We looked at Crunchbase data to measure the number of Florida startups founded in the last decade (2011 through 2020) and limited the results to companies for which Crunchbase had data about the founding team, resulting in 2,675 startups. We also included all early-stage funding rounds for those companies that occurred within the same timeframe. In this context “early-stage rounds” refer to rounds that are listed on Crunchbase as being Angel, Pre-Seed, Seed, Equity Crowdfunding, Convertible Notes, Series A through Series C, or Venture – Series Unknown.

Key Changes From 2019 to 2020

In 2020, across the United States, 17% of newly formed startups were founded by women. In Florida, we saw 76 new startups emerge in 2020. Of those new companies, 18% were led by women, which is a decrease in the percentage of new women founders in Florida from 2019 (23%).

As we identified in our 2020 report, we are experiencing a trend nationally where fewer startups are being founded overall. And while this report does not explore the possible causes for this, it’s notable that the continued decline correlates with the timing of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Funding Rounds and Capital Raised for Women Founders in Florida

According to a 2018 study by BCG, “…businesses founded by women ultimately deliver higher revenue—more than twice as much per dollar invested—than those founded by men, making women-owned companies better investments for financial backers.”

Across the country, 11% of total venture funding went to women-led startups in 2020 across 4,409 funding rounds, representing 19% of funding rounds nationwide. In Florida, 8% of venture funding went to women-led startups in 2020 across 92 funding rounds, representing 15% of overall Florida funding rounds. This is a slight increase from the 7.2% of venture funding allocated to Florida women founders in 2019.

Regional Comparison

We compared the total amount of funding for women-led companies in the largest regions in Florida (Miami, Tampa Bay, Orlando, Jacksonville) to metros across the United States. Tampa Bay and Miami ranked below Minneapolis, Baltimore, Denver, Portland, and Nashville.

Founders to Watch


Startup Challenges and Needs

As part of our annual 2021 State of Entrepreneurship in Florida Survey (formerly known as the Embarc Collective Community Survey), we garnered more insight into the milestones, challenges, and needs of women startup founders across the state.

About the Data

The 2021 State of Entrepreneurship in Florida Survey asked founders and startup team members about their upcoming business milestones, challenges, and greatest support needs. This year, we also included questions to understand the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on their businesses. When we asked about gender in Embarc Collective’s State of Entrepreneurship in Florida, we offered the following descriptors: woman, man, genderqueer/non-binary, or prefer not to disclose. Of the 72 founder and startup team member respondents, 19 identified as women, and 53 identified as men.

Upcoming Milestones

We asked respondents to select the upcoming milestones for their businesses. Respondents were able to select any milestones that were relevant to them, rather than force rank the options. Over 40% of women indicated that building & growing a team, building a repeatable sales process, expanding to a new market/vertical, and fundraising were critical upcoming milestones for their ventures. Of the men responding, the only milestones that ranked above the 40% threshold were building & growing a team and building a repeatable sales process.

Challenges While Building

Similar to last year, access to capital (42%) was a common challenge expressed by women founders. This year, however, finding talent (21%) joined the list as an additional challenge experienced while building. In comparison, most men still responded that their top challenge was related to building a business in a smaller market. The specific challenges were around perceptions of Florida as a vacation destination, lack of density, and difficulty competing with Silicon Valley.

Supporting Women Founders

We asked respondents what types of programs and services they were most in need of to help them build their business.

In our previous study, women respondents indicated that access to capital was the most needed area of support; however, in 2021 we saw that access to talent (63%) spiked as the key identified need.

The Impact of COVID-19

As we approach two years into the COVID-19 pandemic, we now have data available allowing us to observe the ways in which the pandemic has impacted women-led Florida startups.

About the Data

We leveraged data from the 2021 State of Entrepreneurship in Florida Survey as well as the GEM Babson 2020/2021 Study to inform this section. When referring to “pre-pandemic” in the State of Entrepreneurship in Florida Survey, respondents were asked to use January 2020 as a reference point.

The Impact of Starting a Business

While there has been an overall decrease in venture formation in the last year, for some, the pandemic may have been a trigger to build a business. According to the GEM 2020/2021 Study: “While many individuals may have been deterred or delayed in starting a business…21% of those surveyed said they knew at least one person who started a business as a result of COVID-19.”

The Impact on Growing a Business

We asked 2021 State of Entrepreneurship in Florida survey respondents the status of their revenue today compared to January 2020. 58% of women respondents indicated that their revenue has increased since before the pandemic, compared to 73% of men. 17% of women stated that their revenue has stayed the same since before the pandemic, compared to 14% of men. Finally, 17% of women said that their revenue has decreased since before the pandemic, compared to just 2% of men.

The Impact on Teams

To understand the pandemic’s impact on teams, we asked about changes in team size and changes in work setup. The majority of respondents, women and men, noted that their team size is now the same as or has increased from their size before the pandemic.

According to a 2019 study by Kauffman Fellows, “startups with at least 1 female founder hire 2.5x more women” than all-men founding teams.

The pandemic is impacting where we work. All women founder respondents noted that their teams were either working remotely (58%) or operating in a hybrid set-up (42%), with 0% back to fully in-person settings. Men founder respondents, on the other hand, reported 10% had their teams back in a fully in-person setting at the time of completing the survey, with the balance identified as remote (56%) or hybrid (27%).

Receiving COVID-19 Financial Support

There was a disparity between women and men respondents in regards to accessing COVID-19-related assistance such as PPP and EIDL loans, grants, and other sources. 75% of women respondents did not access any support, while 51% of men did not. Of those that did access COVID-19 related assistance, 92% of respondents (men and women) accessed PPP & EIDL funds.

Startup Investors in Florida

About the Data

We leveraged the Embarc Collective Florida Women Investor Database to assess the number of women involved with Florida-based venture capital firms and making investments into Florida-based startups in addition to data from All Raise.

Improvement in Florida

Last year we identified 28 women that were in investment-related roles within Florida venture funds. In just one year, that number jumped to 38 women, representing a 36% increase.

Women Partners at Florida-Based Firms

According to All Raise, 36% of venture funds across the United States had at least one woman partner in 2020. Florida has 69 institutional venture firms, of which 15 firms have one or more woman partners (21%). While Florida still lags in promoting women into partner roles within venture, we are seeing more women be employed by venture funds.

# Women Partners in Florida Venture Capital, 2020 v 2021: For this analysis, we included the following titles – Partner, Founding Partner, Managing Partner, General Partner

What about the Angel Investors?

Our database specifically focused on women involved in institutional investing, so we did not collect the data needed to assess the level of participation of Florida-based women angel investors. We are, however, actively training women interested in startup investing through the Embarc Collective Glaring Gap Summit, powered by JP Morgan Chase, with a goal in part of increasing the number of women angel investors in Florida.

Database of Known Founders and Investors in Florida

In 2020, we released a list of known women founders and investors in Florida. This report includes an updated 2021 database. We hope that this list allows women and men to seek out women investors for their cap tables, for investors to diligence women-led startups, and for all Florida startup community events to include a diverse set of voices.

Florida Directory of Women Investors & Founders

We welcome additions from the community – if you would like to add an investor or add a founder, please do so.

What’s Next

HBR notes that “When women venture capitalists do make the decisions, they’re twice as likely to invest in female founding teams.”

This is why, with the support of JP Morgan Chase, Embarc Collective launched the Glaring Gap Summit in 2020. We believe that if more women in Florida participate in startup funding opportunities, more women founders in Florida will get funded and will be successful in their ventures, reducing the Glaring Gap that we see between women and men in tech entrepreneurship.

The 2020 Embarc Collective’s Glaring Gap Summit brought together 50 Florida-based women to learn the principles of startup investing. We heard resounding feedback on the quality of our program from the participants:

“The Glaring Gap Summit was one of the most incredible experiences of my life. I’ve always been interested in investing, but I’ve felt shut out in education and gateways to learning about it. In the Summit, we were treated to the top experts in the field and an A+ curriculum on how to invest.”

This year we will bring back our line-up of seasoned keynote speakers and curriculum over three virtual sessions led by Angela Lee, Professor of VC at Columbia Business School and Founder at 37 Angels. To participate in the 2021 Glaring Gap Summit, please complete this form by October 27, 2021.

Thank You

Thank you to JPMorgan Chase for its support of building inclusive entrepreneurship in Florida, and specifically for supporting the development of the Glaring Gap Report & Summit.


Featured Founder: Neil Jirele of AppyHour

Welcome to our Featured Founder series, where you’ll meet startup founders from Tampa-St. Petersburg who are building and scaling their ventures to solve some of the world’s greatest challenges. We interviewed Neil Jirele of AppyHour, which offers data-driven mobile marketing, sales enablement, and business intelligence for the three-tier system.

What were you doing previously and what inspired you to launch your company?

I’ve always been a tech geek with a passion for digital experiences. I built my first computer when I was 12 and taught myself how to design, build and share video game content using Unreal Engine. I wanted to go to school for video game design but took the advice of my family and studied business instead. So during college, I continued to pursue my tech interests on the side.

Then through the Tippie College of Business, I earned a scholarship to do an internship abroad in Madrid, Spain over the summer of my sophomore year where I worked at a startup accelerator as a financial analyst. After my first week on the job, I invited my co-workers out for beers where I offered to buy the first couple rounds. When I got the check back I nearly fainted – I was paying 8 euros per beer which at the time was more than $12 USD! I thought to myself, “There has to be a way for me to find live food and drink specials happening near me so I can extend my euros and still enjoy the city without going broke.” On my walk back to my apartment I was ambushed by bar and restaurant employees trying to get me into their establishments which happened to have amazing offers. I thought, “There has to be a better way for these establishment operators to get these great offers in front of consumers like me at the point of decision making.” After scouring the internet for a solution, I was frustrated to find that there wasn’t anything that solved the problem. So, I came up with a solution -  AppyHour.

After a successful MVP/alpha launch of our B2C model in Iowa City, I graduated and got a job in I.T. at a top 5 national liquor distributor. It was there that I recognized a massive shortcoming of technology innovation and data insights within the three-tier system and realized there was a much larger opportunity to be had with AppyHour. That’s when I went full-time on the business and started developing our end-to-end model that enables suppliers to grow brand awareness with target consumers, drive traffic to their on-premise bars and restaurant clientele, and capture robust customer, consumer, and product insight that enable brands to make more informed marketing and sales decisions.

What pain point is your company solving? What gets you excited to go to work every day?

For consumers, AppyHour is simply the easiest and most convenient way to find live food, drink, and event specials happening at local establishments nearby.

For establishment operators, AppyHour is the easiest way to schedule and create specials, promotions, and events and reach the right consumers, with the right offers at the right time.

For suppliers, AppyHour is a mobile marketing, sales enablement, and data analytics platform that empowers brand owners with scalable marketing and brand activation tools that stimulate product sales at client accounts and captures robust and actionable customer, consumer, and product insights.

The thing that gets me excited every day is watching others use the product and the incredible feedback we get from our users and clients. One of the most common things I hear is, “I’ve thought of this before,” or, “I’ve been looking for something like this!” That’s what keeps me motivated.

Name the biggest challenge you faced in the process of launching the company. How did you overcome it?

After the idea came to me, I spent the first 6+ months re-learning how to code for web and mobile. Realizing a lot of the tech has changed I decided that I was going to need a technical co-founder to make the vision come to life. Fortunately, my friend from college, Jake Dye, was studying computer engineering and believed in the vision. I brought him on as co-founder, and we caught a lucky break when we met our first mentor and technical advisor who had recently exited from a Silicon Valley startup. With Jake as co-founder and our new mentor to guide us, we were able to get our MVP launched and haven’t looked back since.

Where do you see your company headed next?

Our next goal is to launch, penetrate and monetize the Tampa Bay market and bring value to local supplier brands, establishment operators, and our growing userbase. We want to become Tampa Bay’s go-to source for local food, drink, and event happenings around the city.

My long-term goal is to have AppyHour work whether you’re in Tampa Bay, St. Pete, LA, or New York.  There still exists no ubiquitous, nationwide solution, and I think we have an opportunity to be the first.

Give us a tactical piece of advice that you'd share with another founder just starting out.

  1. There is no easy route
  2. Listen to your users and customers
  3. Be creative and don’t give up

This is a game of ambition, persistence, and resilience. Everything takes longer than you’d like, and it’s certain that you will fail along the way. Learn from failure and keep trucking forward!

Why Tampa Bay?

First, for our business, being in a location with year-round sunshine, a robust hospitality industry, and consistent tourism is important, especially for our early markets.

Second, the startup scene here has significant momentum that I wanted to be a part of.

Third, the pro-business environment of Florida, the lifestyle it offers and the reasonable cost-of-living make it a great place to launch and grow a business and attract talent.


Partner Spotlight: Richard Heruska, President of TiE

Welcome to our Partner Spotlight series, where you’ll meet key individuals and teams who are supporting the growth of the Florida startup community. We interviewed Rich Heruska of TiE Tampa Bay, which fosters entrepreneurship through mentoring, networking, education, funding, and incubation.

What were you doing previously and what inspired you to work with TiE?

Before being elected President of TiE Tampa Bay, I served the organization as TiEcon Chair and a Board Member. I also currently serve on the Synapse Impact Board.

Previously, my community leadership has centered around my alma mater USF as the President of the USF Alumni Association and member of the Foundation Board.  I also served as the Founding Chair of Best Buddies Tampa Bay.

I was inspired to become the President of TiE Tampa Bay because I truly love the culture of selflessness they encourage in their organization. Members give of their time, talents, and treasures to support one another and the community. I also see the unlimited potential within TiE.  TiE Tampa Bay is a part of a global network of 60 Chapters and 15,000 Members. Connecting you to endless opportunities both personally and professionally.

What pain point is your TiE solving? What gets you excited to go to work every day?

Our Tampa Bay Chapter focuses on: Funding, Mentoring, Networking, and Education.  Between our original Fund which deployed over $3M to founders and now TiEFAN (Florida Angels Network), we have funded over 25 companies. We are a spoke on the funding wheel for founders.

We offer incredible young entrepreneurship education programs for Middle School, High School, and College students. Our goal is to help start and solve the next generation of entrepreneurial businesses. It’s never too early to think about business in TiE! My son has already taken two summers of our TiE middle school courses. Connecting him to Founders and other children of Charter Members.

What gets me excited to be at TiE Every Day is knowing the impact we are making and being able to leave a legacy.  I am humbled to work alongside other amazing volunteers and our talented Executive Director-Mona Patel, our Board, mentors like Past President Suhas Apte, and learning from some fascinating Charter Members like Ashok Kartham, Shilen Patel, Joe Hamilton, etc.

Our Chairman Emeritus, Dr. Kiran Patel, is also very involved and continuously provides his guidance and insights.

Name the biggest challenge you faced in the process of supporting TiE. How did you overcome it?

The Board and I have set an ambitious agenda for the remainder of 2021 and 2022. Sometimes change can be a challenge and just in the first 60 days of my term, we hired our first Full Time Executive Director, Mona Patel, and were accepted into Embarc Collective which is now our first physical home as well. We are growing rapidly and I believe we are overcoming the challenges that growth brings by constantly communicating our why, getting feedback along the way, and delivering on our mission to foster entrepreneurship.

Where do you see your TiE headed next?

We celebrate our 10 Year Anniversary in Tampa Bay next year while TiE Global celebrates its 30 year anniversary. I see TiE Tampa Bay deepening its community involvement and partnerships, growing to 100 Charter Members, continuing to fund awesome entrepreneurs, and being known as an indispensable Entrepreneur Support Organization (ESO) in the Tampa Bay area.

I also see our TiE Access program growing from $400k funded to minority and women entrepreneurs to over $1M in the next few years. I see our TiEFAN Angels Program funding more companies and becoming a part of TiE Angels America.

Give us a tactical piece of advice that you'd share with a founder or president just starting out.

Good solutions today beat perfect ones tomorrow.  Move, act, execute.  Build momentum because momentum breeds more momentum.  Paint a picture of how you see the future and be bold.  You’ll make some mistakes moving quickly, but the positive movement far outweighs any missteps.  Treat your people and your customers like gold, they are always your #1 assets.

People overestimate what they can accomplish in one year, and underestimate what they can accomplish in 5 years so surround yourself with a peer network, mentors, and coaches to keep you grounded and focused.

Why Tampa Bay?

I first moved to Tampa-St Pete from New Jersey to attend USF, it was the best decision of my life at the time which lead to the truly best decision of my wife (marrying my wife of 16 years, Laura) who blessed me with 3 amazing boys.  My family is my anchor and my wife always jokes if we move I have to move her entire extended family, so we’re not moving.

My Tampa Bay friends are also like family in the Technology ecosystem and I just love what we are mutually building.  It’s a movement like I’ve never seen and I love being a small part.


Introducing the Freelance Talent Directory

Our team at Embarc Collective is consistently faced with the same question by our member community of startups and our national network of investors and startup supporters: who are the best freelancers to work with for early-stage and high-growth startups?

To provide a better answer to this question, we set out on a mission to train a group of strong and capable Tampa Bay freelancers in “startup speak”—to truly understand the pain points, limitations, urgency, and process that startups have as they scale.

The Freelancer Program launched on August 21, 2021 as a 4-week small-group intensive training led by the experienced startup operators of Embarc Collective. This program enabled us to optimize the talent assets that we have in Tampa Bay while bringing new business and credibility to our market, aligning with our nonprofit mission to make Tampa Bay a destination for bold, scalable, thriving companies.

During the program, our freelancer participants learned from a customized curriculum around:

  • Startup Optimization. How to position their freelance work for startups and build a playbook for scoping typical startup projects.
  • Effective Project Communication. Becoming well-versed in “startup speak” to effectively win over clients and deliver on their projects.
  • Getting $$$. How to build creative payment plans, work with equity, and evolve pricing as their startup clients evolve, too.
  • Planning for Future Growth. Prospecting new startup clients and building a talent roadmap that helps their freelance business scale.

Equipped with the skills and specialties to work with high-growth startups, we encourage you to leverage this network for your project-based work or as an extension of your startup team.

We are excited to introduce you to the talented marketing and creative freelancers who are certified by Embarc Collective’s startup specialization program as a part of our Freelance Talent Directory:

Startups, investors, and community builders—Refer and share the Freelance Talent Directory here.

Freelancers—sign up to be notified about our future program dates here.